By Katharine Mieszkowski Over on Salon, Andrew O'Hehir has an interview with Dave Eggers, who is best-known as the author of "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" and the publisher of McSweeney's. The interview focuses on his new book, but also gets into Eggers' thoughts on the future of newspapers.
A couple of months ago, Eggers, who also started the nonprofit 826 Valencia, which offers writing programs for kids, offered to email a few words of encouragement to anyone who fears that print is dead.
In a mass email response to those who wrote to him, he promised that an upcoming issue of McSweeney's would take the form of a newspaper: "The hope is that we can demonstrate that if you rework the model a bit, it can not only survive but actually thrive. We're convinced that the best way to ensure the future of journalism is to create a workable model where journalists are paid for reporting here and abroad. And that starts with paying for the physical paper." (You can read the full text of his email here.)
Crazy or visionary? Since the prototype isn't out yet, I'll reserve judgment. O'Hehir asked Eggers about it in the Salon interview, and Eggers responded:
"...I think that there's a future where the Web and print coexist and they each do things uniquely and complement each other, and we have what could be the ultimate and I think best-yet array of journalistic venues. I think right now everyone's assuming it's a zero-sum situation, and I just don't see it that way.
Our students at 826 Valencia still have a newspaper class, where we print an actual newspaper, and we do magazine classes and anthologies where they're all printed on paper. That's the main way we get them motivated, that they know it's going to be in print. It's much harder for us to motivate the students when they think it's only going to be on the Web.
The vast majority of students we work with read newspapers and books, more so than I did at their age. And I don't see that dropping off. If anything the lack of faith comes from people our age, where we just assume that it's dead or dying. I think we've given up a little too soon. We [i.e., McSweeney's] have been working every day on a prototype for a new newspaper, and a lot of what we're doing is resurrecting old things, like things from the last century that newspapers used to do, in terms of really using the full luxury of the broadsheet newspaper, with full color and all that space.
I think newspapers shouldn't try to compete directly with the Web, and should do what they can do better, which may be long-form journalism and using photos and art, and making connections with large-form graphics and really enhancing the tactile experience of paper. You know, including a full-color comic section, for example, which of course was standard in newspapers years ago, when you'd have a full broadsheet Winsor McCay comic. So we'll have a big, full-color comic section, and we're also trying to emphasize what younger readers are looking for, what directly appeals to them. It's hard to find papers these days that really do anything to appeal to anyone under 18, and the paper used to do that all the time. I think there will always be -- if not the same audience and not as wide an audience -- a dedicated audience that can keep print journalism alive.